School Districts Hurry To Accommodate New Date

School classroom in blur background without young student; Blurry view of elementary class room no kid or teacher with chairs and tables in campus.

School board elections will be held June 9 — ready or not.

It’s a daunting task, school officials acknowledge. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision will have school districts racing the clock to have the necessary materials ready.

The special election will be costly, and it will provide a distinct advantage to any incumbent board member running for reelection — name recognition at the forefront.

“I think it required a little more thought,” said J.P. Foster, the president of the East Hampton School Board. “It was very poorly done.”

Cuomo’s new directive gives candidates little more than a week to sign an application and return it. Foster pointed out once a district ascertains who is running, it has to print and send a ballot to every legal voter — about 7000 in East Hampton — as well as a return envelope with postage, “and we have to get all that to the printer,” Foster added.

“My immediate problem is legal notices,” Sag Harbor District Clerk Victoria Handy said. The hope for her is the state will supply more guidance as to the legalese that comes with the budget vote process and having an election on such short notice.

“Public health is the paramount concern,” said New York State School Board Association Executive Director Robert Schneider in a news release. “All school board candidates, and especially those who are at highest risk to contract the coronavirus, would be putting themselves in harm’s way by going door-to-door collecting signatures on their petitions in the midst of a pandemic. Likewise, they would also be putting community members at risk.”

Those interested in running for a seat don’t have to request an absentee ballot nor wait for it to arrive, and don’t have to collect filing petitions.

“School districts, other than small cities, must determine the names of all candidates duly nominated and the propositions and referenda to be voted for on the ballot by May 12,” which is 28 days before the vote, said Al Marlin, a spokesman for the school board association. Candidates just need to fill out the required form and submit it to the district clerk.

School budgets will be adopted in a different manner because of the executive order. Previously, the school board would mull over a draft prepared by the superintendent and for several meetings. The public would get a chance to chime in before the document was finalized. The budget would then formally either pass or fail on election night.

Under the Cuomo directive, voters will receive a copy of the budget in the mail and vote yes or no on June 9.

Many of the school districts were surprised by Cuomo’s edict. As of Monday, May 4, few even mentioned the deadline on their websites.

In Montauk, School Board President Diane Huasman, who holds one of five seats, is up for reelection.

Sag Harbor School District has three expiring terms: Brian DeSesa, Diana Kolhoff, and Alex Kriegsman.

“As of today, Diana Kolhoff is the only board member of the three members listed above that has stated that she will not seek re-election,” Handy said. “Brian DeSesa and Alex Kriegsman have not stated their decision to seek re-election.”

East Quogue has two spots up — the seats of Kristen Jankowski and Brian Babcock.

“Mrs. Jankowski will be seeking re-election,” School Board President Chris Hudson said. “Mr. Babcock is not.”

In East Hampton, John Ryan and Jackie Lowey have expiring terms.

“I’m running, and I believe Jackie is as well,” Ryan said Monday. His seat holds a three-year term.

James McKenna and Anastasia Gavalas have expiring terms in Southampton. Neither returned a request for comment about running again.

Brian Mealey holds the only expiring seat among seven in Mattituck, and said “he’s excited” to be running again.

Suzanne Mensch, the board president in Westhampton Beach, and Joyce Donneson sit in expiring seats.

The terms of Scott Latham and Brian Tobin in Southold are also up, but both intend to run again, according to District Clerk Patricia DiGregorio.

All school board elections and budget votes across New York scheduled for April or May were postponed until at least June 1 by an executive order signed by Cuomo two weeks ago. The date was moved on Saturday, from May 2 to June 9.

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